Toward a Popular Front for the Liberation of the People of the United States from the Apparatus of the Global Warfare and Corporate Welfare State

As I noted the other day, at Mirror on America Liberal Arts Dude has been contemplating the possibility and potential for a coalition of left and right wing political outsiders "to mount a legitimate populist challenge to the dominance of the two major parties." Like proposals for a Green-Libertarian alliance, this idea is not as far fetched as it might at first sound. Among the major tasks necessary for any such effort would be the delineation of common points of interest between left- and right-wing populist formations, bolstered by thoroughgoing critiques of the ideological prejudices of each against the other which are fostered by the duopoly system of government to prevent precisely this sort of people's alliance against entrenched political elites.

In a piece for Salon on "Glenn Beck and left-right confusion," Glenn Greenwald recently argued that traditional political shorthand for distinguishing between left- and right-wing positions on a host of issues has begun to break down. He writes:
Is opposition to the Wall Street bailout (supported by both parties' establishments) left or right? How about the view that Washington is inherently corrupt and beholden to the richest corporate interests and banks which, through lobbyist influence and vast financial contributions, own and control our political system? Is hostility towards Beltway elites liberal or conservative? Is opposition to the Surveillance State and endless expansions of federal police powers a view of liberals (who vehemently opposed such measures during the Bush era but now sometimes support or at least tolerate them) or conservatives (some of whom -- the Ron Paul faction -- objected just as vigorously, and naturally oppose such things regardless of who is in power as transgressions of the proper limits of government)? Liberals during the Bush era continuously complained about the doubling of the national debt, a central concern of many of these "tea party" protesters. Is the belief that Washington politicians are destroying the economic security of the middle class, while the rich grow richer, a liberal or conservative view? Opposition to endless wars and bankruptcy-inducing imperial policy generally finds as much expression among certain quarters on the Right as it does on the Left.
The internal debate among tea party activists continues to revolve around the question of the appropriate course of action for the future of the movement, in other words, whether to work within the existing two-party framework by infiltrating the major parties to change them from within or to work outside the exiting two-party framework, and begin to chip away at the Democratic-Republican duopoly on political power. Among those who advocate the former strategy we find self-described pragmatic realists as well as known duopolist shills. For the most part, the duopolist shill reveals the rot at the center of two-party ideology in his or her purely negative, partisan relation to the political order: Democrats (–or Republicans, as the case may be–) must be stopped at all costs, is their rallying cry. The fetishistic obsession with the political other here covers over their own lack of a positive program and distracts from the obvious conclusion that such a strategy, if successful, will change just enough to ensure that everything remains the same. The self-described pragmatic realist, on the other hand, admits that the two-party form is thoroughly corrupt, but argues that one must nonetheless work within the reigning system because all other strategies have little chance of success. Ironically, few such realists recognize the utopian character of this position: third party and independent activism is forever doomed to failure, they say, while maintaining that the Republican (or Democratic) Party can be "fixed," remodeled in our image and likeness over the course of the next election cycle.

The temptation to affiliate with either of the duopoly parties is the greatest threat to the future success of the tea party movement. Tea party activists could learn a great deal from serious study of the anti-war movement and its hijacking by the Democratic Party, so as to avoid the same fate, namely, complete and utter defeat of yet another popular movement at the hands of the political establishment. Many already grasp this simple fact. At American Revolution, Patrick Samuels writes:
It is my belief that only by destroying the monopoly of the two party system is there any hope for making real and lasting change in the direction of this country. The new leaders will not be Democrats or Republicans but independents from the tea party movement itself.
It is thus not difficult to see that, conversely, progressives and anti-war activists could learn a thing or two from the tea party movement. Instead, however, many are content simply to denounce conservatives and libertarians as racists, rather than consider, for instance, the possibility of a popular front for the liberation of the people of the United States from the apparatus of the global warfare and corporate welfare state. In this context, it should be noted that "you can be a Democrat and racist at the same time," as Melissa Harris-Lacewell reminded readers of The Nation just last week. Opposition to the global warfare and corporate welfare state is not confined to the left or the right. The bifurcation and compartmentalization of this opposition is nothing but a symptom of duopolist prejudice.


Samuel Wilson said...

Progressives will always keep their distance from the tea parties as long as the latter are perceived to be dogmatically "anti-government." Anyone who accepts the progressive label most likely believes that government is a legitimate tool for materially improving people's lives. I don't know if there's any room for that opinion in the tea party movement, where it seems more typical to equate any social welfare policy with robbery. The tea parties may be weaning themselves off partisanship, but they seem less flexible when it comes to ideology. It would be fair to ask, however, what progressives might do or say to prove themselves more ideologically flexible.

Liberal Arts Dude said...

Prominent Progressives such as David Sirota and Zephyr Teachout have talked about engaging the Tea Party movement to try and tap into the populist anger that is driving the movement. Sirota's says the Tea Party anger should be harnessed and coopted towards a Progressive agenda, while Teachout argues for trying to find common ground with the Tea Party folks and acknowledging what is real and justified in that anger.

Leftists who would like to engage the Tea Party folks should realize that the Tea Party movement is still, fundamentally, a conservative movement. Finding common ground with them means to respect that fact. Finding that common ground, therefore, requires one go beyond the traditional Left-Right models of politics and activism to the areas where both sides can agree on.

I see a potential opening for cooperation on issues such as ballot access, electoral reform, alternative forms of voting, citizen engagement -- ways to encourage greater democratic participation in the political system by outsiders, third parties and independents. The reform group Free and Equal Elections (sponsoring the Midwest Liberty Fest) is a good example of a reform group that has a presence in the Tea Party movement and is successfully engaging the Tea Party folks on these terms.

d.eris said...

Though there are certainly many points on which conservatives and progressives would never, or almost never agree, Sam, there are also a great many where there is significant overlap between their positions. I like LAD's emphasis on process issues, voting and electoral reform to open up the two-party system, both sides are sidelined by the duopoly order. But I would say that there is even room for agreement on a number of "anti-government" issues, which I why I highlighted the global warfare and corporate welfare state as a common point of opposition: the bailouts, the permanent warfare state, the war on drugs, the militarization of police, warrantless wiretapping etc.

Samuel Wilson said...

Damon, are you suggesting that the burden of compromise falls on progressives for the moment? That seems to be the implication, since from my own recent experience of a tea party-like event that movement already takes the positions you mention. The problem in part is one of perception; elements in the media have done a good job portraying the tea people as "haters," and for that reason I suppose many progressives simply wouldn't feel welcome at such events. Is there anything the tea partiers can do to reach out to progressives to dispel the fear, hatred and suspicion that's out there? While a common concern with "process" sounds perfectly liberal, doesn't there have to be some agreement on ends as well as means for a real reform movement to emerge?

d.eris said...

I think there's enough overlap such that neither progressives nor conservatives need compromise their positions to work in tandem, rather than at odds, with one another. (The bailouts are a good example of this, folks were against it across the board.) I'm not suggesting, for instance, some sort of populist version of bipartisanship, which would be to fall back into duopolist ideology. I think both sides each need to aggressively make their case to the other on issues where a common effort is possible, but where this is not entirely obvious. Some examples off the top of my head . . . From the left, a strong case can be made against the permanent warfare state as an example of excessive spending or big government inertia, and the erosion of civil liberties, or adherence to the constitution, in the name of said war, for instance, which would and already does appeal to many libertarian-minded conservatives. From the right, libertarians argue strongly against the war on drugs, for instance, a position with which many progressives already agree; conservatives concerned with excessive powers wielded by the federal government could find a sympathetic audience among folks on the left who say the very same thing, but with a different language and vocabulary.

Finally, it is in the interest of all to open up the duopoly system though, expand the scope of political representation across the board, and reduce the power of entrenched elites.

The "ends and means" question is a good one, maybe I'll put a post together after I think about it a bit more.

Liberal Arts Dude said...

I wonder what a large-scale survey among Tea Party and Left activists and sympathizers will reveal especially as it concerns issues such as:

(a) Does the average ordinary person have a strong voice and power in American democracy? Should it?

(b) Do the two major parties actually represent the interests of ordinary people? Should they?

(c) Is the country is being led effectively by our elected leaders from either of the major parties?

(d) Should a wider spectrum of perspectives, viewpoints and solutions be represented in public discourse and institutions than just Republican or Democrat?

(e) Do the mainstream political parties care more for their own internal interests rather than the interests of the country as a whole?

(f) Will you be willing to join a third political party or vote for a third party or independent candidate in an election?

(g) Will you be willing to participate in political activities and actions that are designed to address the issues above?

I would bet that such a survey would reveal tremendous overlap in answers among self-described conservatives and leftists. Making public and widespread the results of such a survey would likely encourage cooperation among the Left and Right activists.

d.eris said...

There would definitely be a lot of overlap there, LAD, imo. You should work that list into a new post at Folk Politics or Mirror, if you haven't already. The major differences of opinion are likely to be found on specific issues, or on solutions to individual problems, but on all the 'big picture,' strategic level points such as these, it seems to me there is a lot of agreement among folks across the ideological spectrum.